10,000 swings.

It's funny that up until now, this blog has been a travel log, mostly because I started it with much grander aspirations.  What I want the blog to be "about" is a more important nugget to write on that will get done soon.  Not to say that writing about a trans-continental trip is somehow unimportant, but such a topic is pretty comitted to the experience, rather than the lessons learned, in a way that I would like to transition away from, somewhat.  I would hope to write more about things that might be directly useful. So, first up in this new vein is exploring the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge that I set up for myself when I left on said trip. It was a sort of guiding force, giving me a semblance of normalcy even as the landscape changed so quickly. While I wasn’t able to get it done before getting to Oakland I did finish, yesterday. I’m glad I did it, and it was definitely edifying thrash against a challenge like that. But boy am I glad to be done.

I first heard about doing 10,000 swings in a somewhat constrained time-frame from the singular Dan John, who often comes up with those sort of excellent ideas that cozy right up to crazy ones. What I love is that usually what he says seems totally common sense and totally ridiculous, at the same time. This time, he chased down the “do as I say and not as I do” paradigm and tackled it to the ground. For all the times we as trainers praise the kettlebell, listing its singular benefits, he said, much of the time we don’t make good in our training. What if we did?

Sure enough, after doing a ridiculous number of swings (and some other things, which I will get to) I feel mostly great, in all the ways that I would’ve outlined to my clients had I recommended they try it (and not everyone should!). My posture feels better, my legs and core (god I hate that word) feel strong, I flat out can’t get winded without sprinting uphill, and I’m not suffering at all after sitting in a car for the literal 75 hours of driving that my trip demanded. Score!

While the math worked out to about 350 swings a day, that meant zero rest days, and took zero account of other physical things I might do. With my one 24k kettlebell straining my grip after even the first hundred in a set, I figured out pretty quick that days off were crucial (duh!), as was exploring various ways of breaking the daily totals up. For example, DJ utilized a 50-25-15-10 arrangement (totaling 100), in which one would wait for their heart-rate to chill out between micro-sets (e.g. after the 50, 25, etc). I tried all different arrangements, and just waited for my heart to catch in between.

As for the breaking up the whole sets (between 100’s of swings), DJ totally went Easy Strength on that one, I presume, basically doing them as they felt good, and resting as needed. As my workouts mostly had to be accomplished in a single session during my trip, I would do a prescribed number of swings (80-120) broken into micro-sets, superset a pressing variation, and then just loop. While I started with ~350-swing daily totals, this last week (when I was trying to get the damn thing done) I did 700, 800, and 1100 in a day.

This was not usually very enjoyable (har har). While my hips never barked much, and any residual soreness was mostly pleasant, my damn forearms were always a weak-link. I am not a Popeye type for damn sure, but it’s not as if I have never trained my grip either (2x bodyweight deadlifts?). Grip issues, as well as related skin/callousing details (very sexy), were by far the most annoying part of the whole experience.

As for the pressing, switching up the variations helped a lot both physically and as a super-setted relief for my hands/arms. I only did three different exercises (single-arm military presses, turkish get-ups, and feet-elevated pushups), but it was enough to balance all that whole-body pulling (the swings). Throughout, the workouts felt like a turn away from strength as a goal (which was definitely disconcerting, except for the military presses), but the resulting work-capacity gains will round me out in a productive way, I hope. And the mental break from grinding out heavy singles, doubles and triples was more welcome than I realized before setting out.

When I first read about the idea, other than being struck by its simplicity and suited-ness for my gym-less status en route across ‘Merica, I liked the monumental feel to that number. 10,000 is a lot of anything. It’s something that can’t just be stuffed in that black hole of instant-gratification, even if a month is just a flash in the pan of life. It’s also a number to respect, a number that humbles and grounds you--try handing someone $10k cash sometime--and a number that gives perspective about what it is to challenge yourself. And it’s a nice counterpoint to the more instinctive, park-bench workouts I do most of the year (its own blog topic).  Honestly, the sheer repetition became  meditative, too, and it allowed me the chance to become intimate with the tiny details of the movement, without being too conscious.

If anyone wants more information, or guidance to attack your own challenge, please be in touch. It doesn’t need to be 10,000, and it doesn’t even need to be swings. But it needs to be simple, focused, balanced, and realistic, with just a little brutality thrown in for hair-on-your-non-gender-specific-chest reasons. And it definitely needs to be programmed appropriately in terms of your normal activity.

Lastly, the idea of returning to training normalcy feels just right. For me, that will mean a very loose monthly plan of movements that are not a hinge (like the swings), focusing on strength and power, but with wiggle room for whatever might come up. In a word, back to the park-bench for me!